Summer months stretch out before us and to those who are yearning for holidays it is an attractive time of year. But summer holidays can carry uncertainty, randomness and stress for some individuals with autism. While many typical people enjoy a break from routine and structure, this may not be the case with those who need some sense of predictability in order to feel safe and happy. So, does this mean that parents of kids with autism are doomed to plan every detail of their summer? Not by any stretch. Some simple measures can make the time away from school and work far more pleasurable for the whole family.
First, provide a calendar that has the major or a least, the pre planned events recorded. Use pictures or words to show your child what is coming up. Calendars give kids with autism the structure that they need; organization gives persons with autism a sense of control.
Secondly, it can be really helpful to create a list of all of the activities that the individual enjoys. Again, use pictures or words depending on the comprehension level of the reader. Using such a list plus a visual timer allows the child to choose what they want to do, in the order that they want to do it and most of all it structures free time. Parents and caregivers can put activities that are a “must” on the daily list. We set ours up on a whiteboard with two columns: “To Do” and “Done.” Some people like using Velcro and pictures of favourite activities. This tool is a great way to keep variety in your child’s day and it is even more exciting for the sake of developing independence.
Of course, if your child has not been taught how to do activities on their own, this may be the place to start. Every human needs hobbies or interests that they can pursue individually in order to build their brain, their sense of self, and their understanding of the world they live in. Take digital pictures of all of the individual’s games and activities so that you don’t have to list all of the choices verbally every time your child is bored! The following are some places to start: board games, puzzles, movies, books, bicycle, exercise equipment, PS3, TV, the weather channel, specific toy sets, trampoline, sports equipment, and so on. It may also be useful to have pictures of activities that the family does together as part of the choice board. Pictures can also be “removed” if the activity is not available that day.
Choice boards give those who live with autism some control over their time. They are just as useful at home as they are at school! When you catch yourself begging that your child find something to do because you desperately need time or peace and quiet, remember that if adults provide the structure….not the entertainment, we are building independence and self esteem in those individuals that we love.
I remember an old fairytale, well, actually I don’t recall much of the story, but my memory tells me that Hansel and Gretel, having been deceived by their parents, made their way through the deep, dimly lit forest and cleverly chose to drop pieces of breadcrumbs (the original plan was pebbles, I think) so that they could find their way back. In true fairytale form, the story gets a little scary at this point and the breadcrumbs are eaten by the animals of the forest. But, the idea was a good one and the breadcrumbs would have served the purpose of keeping Hansel and Gretel on track!
Well, I want to leave some breadcrumbs for you (non edible ones to be sure), as you journey through the vast, sometimes scary path of raising or teaching a child with autism. Now, I am no expert parent or teacher, but I have been there, done that and in some ways, I am finally getting it right! Along the way, I have learned some tidbits of wisdom from others that have made my life so much easier. And so, I want to pass them along….a little bit at a time.
Check back every couple of weeks for some new breadcrumbs for your journey!